Carlyle House Docent Dispatch March 2004 Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority
Global Perspectives: Cuba’s Role in the American Revolution by Caridad de la Vega
In the annals of history, the involvement of foreign East Florida and its capital of St. Augustine, and powers in the American Revolution is often limited to contact colonials fighting in Georgia.” This plan was the role the French played in aiding the thirteen sent to Madrid, Spain, in anticipation of a 1779 colonies to sever ties with the mother country, England. declaration of hostilities between Spain and Britain. In France’s animosity over losing their territorial the meantime Miralles took a residence in Philadelphia strongholds in North America fueled France’s desire to where he oversaw the shipment of supplies from Cuba. aid the colonies in securing their independence. During this period Miralles and General However, another global power, Spain, and its island Washington became friends. Miralles so admired colony south of the North American continent, Cuba, Washington that he sent portraits of him as gifts to were very much involved in the American Revolution. officials in Havana and Madrid. After a meeting This is a little known and unacknowledged chapter in between the two, Miralles “horrified at the plainness of American history. In 1762 Spain lost Florida to Washington’s fare, decided to symbolize the bounty of England and was fueled by a sense of national pride his royal master by sending presents: crystal flasks and and need for revenge to help the American colonists wine which to fill them, chocolate, sugar, [Cuban] against the greatest global power. guava jelly, candies, a box of [Cuban] lemons to make Cuba played an obscure yet integral role as Spain’s punch with, and a hundred-pound sea turtle” to closest colonial territory to the North American Washington and his wife Martha. Once Spain continent. Cuban troops and money were utilized in officially declared war against Britain, Miralles stayed the liberation effort. In 1777 Spain fiscally lent their that winter at Washington’s headquarters in support with one million livres. Furthermore, José Elio Morristown, New Jersey. While there he succumbed to de la Puente, born in St. Augustine, Florida of Cuban pneumonia. He was fittingly buried with full military parents, was recruited as a spy in 1777 and sent from honors with Washington presiding over the funeral Havana to St. Augustine to spy on the British. Within cortege. This marked one of the first Catholic services that same year Juan Miralles, a Havana merchant, was officially attended by the United States government and sent as an emissary to help George Washington and the Congress. Continental Congress. Miralles settled in Cuba as a In implementing the plans that Miralles and Henry young boy and later married into a prominent Cuban had drawn, under the command of Spanish General family. Miralles landed in Charlestown, South Bernardo de Galvéz, Cuban troops secured western Carolina, and traveled to Williamsburg for a clandestine meeting with the well-known revolutionary, Patrick Henry. Miralles and Henry CARLYLE HOUSE planned a strategy that required “Spanish and American Mary Ruth Coleman, Director troops to take the city of Mobile and the British West Jim Bartlinski, Curator Florida capital of Pensacola, sweep through British Cindy Major, Curator of Education Page 2 Carlyle House
Florida and ousted the Redcoats. As the Spanish myth surrounding the rapid succession of events that colonial governor of Louisiana, Galvéz secured Baton took place after the request for funds, is the story that Rouge and seized British forts along the Mississippi, Cuban woman pawned their jewelry in order to raise before turning his attention to the re-conquest of the funds needed to help the American patriots. Florida by the Spanish. Having secured these two These events were surely motivated by two factors; victories by the fall of 1779, Galvéz received additional the desire for Spaniards to aid an enemy of the British, reinforcements of 1,400 troops from Havana, and the and by the Cubans’ desire to aid the first attempt following spring ousted the British garrison at Mobile. among colonists in the North American continent to However the reconquest of Florida remained a daunting fight for their independence from the mother country. task that required even more men. With this objective Nonetheless, Cuba’s involvement speaks to the crucial in mind Galvéz sailed to Havana to raise an army and role that international allies played in the effort towards garner supplies to challenge the 2,500 Redcoats and American liberation. In addition, their involvement their Native American allies. In the end, 4,000 Cubans underscores the deep historical roots shared by Cubans out of a total army of 7,000 troops were recruited to and Americans, history that surely predates the challenge the British in west Florida. A Cuban field takeover of Cuba by Castro. marshal, Juan Manuel de Cagigal (who hailed from Santiago de Cuba), deployed troops to block the British Sources: escape both by sea and by land. The final decisive act Flexner, James Thomas. George Washington in the of the battle was the explosion of a British powder American Revolution (1775-1783). New depot that caused 100 British casualties. The British York: Little, Brown and Company, 1967. saw no other alternative than to surrender to the Spanish, who once again secured western Florida with Alex Antón and Roger E. Hernandéz. Cubans in the aid of an army largely composed of Cuban men that America: A Vibrant History of a People in Exile. New included free slaves and mulattoes among their ranks. York: Kensington Books, 2002. These operations redirected the attention of British troops that could have been utilized against patriot armies to the north.
Yet another very significant contribution by Cubans to the American cause took place towards the end of the revolution. By 1781 the American forces were nearly bankrupt and were faced with the prospect of only being able to pay the army for another two months. General Washington initially sent an urgent request for financial help to American financier Robert Morris, but to no avail. Thereafter, the Comte de Rochambeau as General Washington’s French ally implored French authorities in Haiti and Marqués de Saavedra in Santo Domingo, but neither had the financial resources or the manpower to spare. Rochambeau, believing that the Cubans could supply the monetary aid they were seeking, sailed on August 15, 1781 aboard the frigate Aigrette towards Cuba. He sought the aid of the recently appointed governor of Cuba, Juan Manuel de Cagigal, who fortuitously for the colonists happened to be the very same military officer who aided the Spanish in ejecting British forces from Pensacola. Cagigal immediately took action and secured 1,200,000 French livres; (300 million in today’s value) a combination of private donations and funds from the Cuban municipal treasury. A popular